Elvis Costello played a solo gig last night as a guest of Richard Thompson (of Fairport Convention fame) who is curating this year's Meltdown festival at the Southbank Centre in London. The gig was at the Royal Festival hall on father's day and Elvis had brought his own dad along to the gig, though Ross is now in his 80s and not doing a lot of singing himself.
It was a stripped-down gig with a bare set, just guitars and amps littered the stage. There was no formal announcement at the start, Elvis just walked out and launched into "45" without even saying hello. He did get chatty after a couple of songs and enjoyed a fair bit of banter with the audience — the crowd was not shy in calling out requests.
Elvis did quite a bit of off-mic singing, which works nicely in a theatre like this. For one song he just dispensed with a mic for the entire song and sat on the edge of the stage — yet everyone could still hear.
These stripped down gigs can work really well and expose how great the songwriting is, or they can can unmask some shaky tunes that really need a bit of noise to work. Fortunately Elvis's songs really shine in this form. When he did his classic cover of "Good Year For The Roses" it felt so perfect I wanted to capture those few minutes, bottle them up, and publish them online immediately as a masterclass in music.
He played two guitar pieces simultaneously for "Watching the Detectives" by using sampled loops and closed the gig with a foot-stomping "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love And Understanding" that had the audience on their feet cheering for more, taking in the melancholy of "Shipbuilding" along the way. Towards the end, Richard Thompson came on stage and provided lead electric guitar to Elvis's rhythm for a few songs.
Elvis Costello really is a national treasure. He is one of our most significant artists in music of all genres and at Meltdown he once again demonstrated this with songs from right across his career.
He never showed up at his own after-show party, though I assume that's because his dad was in the audience and family came first… until the next Elvis gig!